THE BACON BANJO IN THE EARLY 20th CENTURY
FF AND PROFESSIONAL MODELS
Data for Bacon Banjos with Internal Resonators (and a few others) - Estimated dates of manufacture from 1905-1922
NEW: First I'd like to thank <http://sugarinthegourd.com/> for hosting this site. I've added a picture column (yes or blank) to the spreadsheet which means that I have pictures of those instruments. These will be willingly shared with anybody who'd like a copy of specific ones (please be patient though, I'm on a phone modem and will send pictures when I go to a high speed wireless location).
This list was originally provided to me by Tim Brown of West Chester, PA from data gathered by Bob Carlin,of Lexington, NC, as suggested by Eli Kaufman of the American Banjo Fraternity.
The data is in an Excel spreadsheet; blank cells indicate "information not known"; (new entries made on December 2, 2007 designated “from Polle” are from <http://www.acoustudio.dk/BD_and_Bacon_database.html> (I've found a few pictures listed in his collection and have added information on those banjos)). Also, I'd like to thank Jim Bollman who has provided me with many, many entries that are in the data base (Bollman's info has lead to some Polle designations being removed as Jim added quite a bit more information on a particular instrument).
The data can be found by clicking on the link below:
Representative pictures gathered from a number of different banjos can be seen on the link below. At the end I have placed a picture and description of the patent for the pot with a dish tone ring. Note, that the tone ring is only supported by the shoes and does not rest on top of the pot. The actual distance varies from banjo to banjo and in particular, in those with a simple ring, the distance can be as small as the thickness of a sheet of paper while with the dish tone rings, the distance is more like 3 – 5 mm.
Note: SGC = Special Grand Concert
The numbers or descriptions of the instrument in the picture are located on the lower right next to the picture. From the information I have, none of the pictures is of a repro item unless indicated. If anyone knows otherwise about any of the instruments in these pictures, I'd appreciate them letting me know and I will edit the wording on the picture page.
I've now added a comparison of identically named inlays and carved heels from the pictures that I have. What is most striking is that they appear in ranges of numbers. For example, the dragons are on four banjos with serial numbers ranging from 67 to 486; flower pots range from 193 to 542; medical torch from 534 to 1110; Bacon script (improper description in my mind) 5716 to 6530. Another item of note is that the heal cap bush was engraved only until 542; after that the earliest non-engraved bush is 5848 (picture too poor to show). These comparisons can be viewed by clicking on the links below. [Note – Some of the photos were taken a slight angles, so some of the inlays may appear narrower than those photographed straight on).
It has also recently come to my attention, that some tension hoops had notches and some didn’t. I’ve gone through the pictures I have and added that data to the spreadsheet.
Two of the banjos represented in the pictures have unusual cuts in the internal resonator. They are indicated by 5034m (repro neck) and Music Emporium. Following are email correspondences that I had concerning the authentication of these instruments as Bacons. Recently, I came across another pot with the unusual holes (large in center with two smaller on either side; like one of the ones represented in the pictures but with differently colored binding). In addition, one of the pots with unusual holes was covered up with and redone with two f-holes (see BaconBanjoPics.pdf)
From Yigal Zan, Ros. Hunter-Anderson
Dear Carl, During the "banjo boom" era there was quite a bit cooperation between Bacon and William Lang (the designer/manufacturer of the Orpheum, Paramount, and the Langstile banjos). Lang designed and manufactured all the Slingerland banjos - Maybelle or "Slingerland," the late Lyon & Healy banjos, and many many no-name banjos for all sort of stores. The pot shown on the ebay appears to be one of several "experimental banjos" which Lang and the people at Bacon were toying with. I had the chance to examine one of those banjos, namely, with metal tubes hanging in a circle inside the rim, to provide speculated tone enhancements under American tenor conditions - parlor/jazz music with plenty of chording and a viola tuning. To my recollection, the banjo I examined (it was in the 70s) did not bear any name. The person who brought it to the store, who was very knowledgeable and experience, introduced it as one of several Lang's experimental banjos. Very few were made for each such design. Of course, with my extensive experience I could not help but see Lang's style-prints anywhere, the peghead design, the inlays, the choice of materials and dimensions (5/8" thick rims, but not always), and many other hardware subtleties. I put these type of banjos in the "nischt a hin nischt a her" category (not here not there), nice but not suitable, or less than satisfactory for either old-time, bluegrass, or Irish music, too heavy for the first and too light for the latters. Regarding the Irish case, I read many posts which betray the assumption that any 4-string tenor "can be used for Irish music," including small Maybelles and Vega Little Wonders. Unfortunately, banjos lose a lot of volume when are fitted with heavier strings than the ones for which they were designed, and tuned a whole octave below the fiddle. In my experience, only the Mastertones, the Epiphone Recording banjos, the 12" Tubaphones, the megaphonic Weymanns, and with some reservations, the Paramounts, are sufficiently loud to serve Irish music adequately (I prefer the 12" tubaphones and the Weymanns owing to their better volume to weight ratio). Yours, Yigal
From Ed Britt
Eli Kaufman said Cliff Spaulding (protege of Fred Bacon) called them "Ax-handle" Bacons. Because they were made up in Forestdale, Vermont, "by men more used to shaping ax-handles than banjo necks."
They were made in the late teens -and according to the serial on this one - into the early twenties.
The workmanship was usually a bit crude by bacon standards. The necks always look like they'd been finished with shoe polish.
When I first looked at the ebay photos I was shocked - I'd never seen a decent neck on one of these.
Then I realized it was one of Wyatt's repro necks [5034m (repro neck)]. The tenor neck, as shown, is more typical but even it is a bit better than normal.
These "ax-handle" Bacons usually do NOT have a serial number. (I think I have one other serial for one)
I've also never seen one as a tenor - Bacon did not catalog tenors until the Groton period (after 1920).
My guess is, this was an earlier Forrestdale rim, from the teens, that was moved to Groton, when they started the works there. It was factory-fitted with a low grade tenor neck about 1921. (Which is what the serial # suggests.)
Unless Wyatt was scrounging parts (the dowel stick) from a couple different junkers, to put together a playable one.
The Bacon "Professional" (donut) resonator with 2 f-holes, did not show up until the Groton period.
One problem is that Bacon did NOT mark the rims with matching serial numbers, until after David Day showed-up, in late 1922. Be aware, there are a few donut resonators running around with non-original necks.
All who have information to add to this database (either instruments that are not included or to fill in empty spaces), please email me.
This database was last updated on July 26, 2011.